I arrived in Nashville on August 18th, 1991, sad about leaving West Hollywood but looking forward to my new graduate program in Biblical Hebrew at Vanderbilt Divinity School. I found an apartment and an adjunct teaching job, toured the campus, and looked for Nashville's gay life:
Three gay organizations, some bars, and a Metropolitan Community Church.
On my first Saturday, I went to two of the bars, both on dismal country roads beyond the city limits. The first was completely deserted except for a woman who tried to pick me up -- a real woman -- and the second was about half drag queens, half rednecks. No one I found attractive.
I missed Mugi and the French Quarter.
Disappointed, I left after about an hour. On the way back into town, I stopped at an old-fashioned ice cream place called Bobbie's Dairy Dip, ordered a hot fudge sundae, and sat at one of the picnic tables outside.
"'Scuse me, sir, do you mind if I join you?"
I looked up: A country boy, barely out of his teens: tall and thin, scruffy black hair, handsome round face, unshaven, wearing a button-down shirt, jeans, and dirty tennis shoes. Holding a dish of frozen custard.
Shocked, I motioned "ok." He sat across from me and stuck out his hand. Very dry, firm handshake.
"You were looking at me at that other place we was at, but I didn't have the nerve to come say hi. The name's Red."
Was this the way people cruised in Nashville?
Red was very talkative: he was 25 years old, grew up in a small town outside Nashville, and worked at a gas station. He just got out of prison a few months ago -- DUI and resisting arrest.
Not the best pickup line!
But he "turned his life around." He was sober, he had his GED, and he was taking classes at the community college. He wanted to go to Middle Tennessee State and study zoology.
"You been to college, ain't you?" he asked. "I can tell by the way you talk."
"Yep, I almost got a Ph.D. I'm at Vanderbilt now, studying Biblical Hebrew."
"Whoa, Biblical Hebrew, that's hard. I can tell, just talking to you, that your brain is working at like three or four levels above mine. Let me ask you something." He reached under the table and rubbed his foot against mine "Do you think it will ever be legal for people like us to get together?"
At that moment, some kids at another started table laughing. Red jumped up and ran to his car.
I joined him. "They weren't laughing at us, you know."
"It's not safe here. You're from California, you don't know -- we got to keep a low profile. Could we go to your house?"
Red was cute, with the "lost soul" look I liked But I was a bit nervous about inviting a scruffy-looking stranger, an ex-con, back to my apartment. "I like to take things slow, get to know the guy," I said "How about we go out to dinner Tuesday night?"
"Ok. But someplace safe." He thought for a moment. "How about Bucky's, down in Columbia."
I'd never heard of Columbia, but I assumed it was a suburb of Nashville, where Red lived.
Of course, I got his contact information, and gave it to Lane back home.
Columbia turned out to be about 50 miles away, and Bucky's a heterosexist "family restaurant" that served "chicken an dressin'."
Red was wearing a plaid button-down shirt and a red tie. He gave me a plastic rose, the kind they sell at 7-11. A little weird.
"I never had a real date with a guy before," he said with a shy smile. "Usually they just want to do you and go home."
We ate our "chicken an dressin'" while Red fondled my leg under the table with his foot and smoked cigarettes.
I hated smokers!
Afterwards he wanted to go to the club up in Nashville, where they had drag shows on Tuesday nights.
Then why did I drive all the way down here? For Southern Country Cooking?
But I had already invested time and energy in this guy, so we went. It was ok, if you like drag shows.
On the way back to our cars, a pick-up truck pulled up next to us, and the passenger-side door opened. It was all dark inside. "Hey, faggots," someone whispered. "Get in."
Red grabbed my hand, and we ran back to the bar. We waited a half hour before trying to leave again.
It was after midnight I was tired and scared. I just wanted to go home -- alone. But when I suggested that we call it a night, Red looked so disappointed that I invited him home.
We sat on the couch in the living room, kissing -- Red was admittedly good at that. But the moment I tried to go down on him, he said "You got any photo albums? I want to know everything there is to know about you."
So we watched MTV and leafed through my photo albums. I showed Red photos of my parents and brother and sister, my friends at Denkmann, Washington, Rocky High, Augustana, Indiana, and West Hollywood. He kept up a constant stream of questions
I drew Red to his feet and pulled him into the bedroom. He stared at the bed next to the window.
"We can't sleep there! Too risky."
I was too tired to argue. I spread some blankets and pillows out onto the living room floor and tore off Red's shirt and tie. Hard hairy chest, lanky arms.
"Hey, you know what would be good? Some music."
So I turned MTV on: to Madonna's "Express Yourself."
So if you want it right now, make him show you how
Express what he's got, oh baby ready or not
The erotic encounter was ok, but the the evening was too weird -- a 45 minute drive for chicken, a drag show, gay bashing, photo albums, MTV -- I decided not to see him again.
The next Sunday, I went to services at the MCC, the gay church. And Red was there, sititing in the front row!
The uncensored story, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood.